Fernando Botero’s contribution to the city of Medellin is not just the very visible and massive sculptures that define the city, but the immensely precious gift of public access.
By Laxmi Murthy*
A voluminous Venus, sleeping in the gentle sun (Venus Dormida), another substantial woman with a mirror (Mujer con Espejo), a woman casually reclining (Mujer reclinada) and a nude Adam and Eve facing each other. All nude. All huge, larger than life, yet not overpowering. People casually lean against the massive bronze sculptures, take photographs, rub their hands on the warm bronze for good luck, pose, rest, or simply sit and commune with Medellin’s most loved personalities.
The Plaza Botero, named after Colombia’s most well-known artist, is a people’s space. But it was not always so. Earlier part of the squalid downtown area considered unsafe, sleazy and overrun by drug runners and addicts, this area was one that was quickly scaled and left behind. It was certainly not a welcoming place to spend time in of a balmy evening. In 2004, when Fernando Botero donated 23 sculptures to the Plaza, this space between the Museo d’Antioquia and Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture was reborn. Now a veritable outdoor gallery, art has spilled out, literally into people’s arms. And they have embraced it, made it theirs in ways that might seem somewhat irreverent to those who believe that high culture must be appreciated only in the museum. But Botero thought otherwise, encouraging his bronze masterpieces to be perched upon, posed against, and stroked with affection. The giant sculptures are to be hung around, absorbed and admired during the course of an ordinary day.
It helps, of course that city regulations make it mandatory for spaces above a certain area to incorporate at least one work of art. And how much more friendly these works of art are, under the open sky, than the more solemn pedestals in the Museo D’Antioquia where substantial space is devoted to Botero’s sculptures as well as paintings. His aesthetic is one that provokes debate – in particular his over-sized people and objects, what he calls ‘voluminous’ rather than fat. “I fatten my characters to give them sensuality” he says. And so he painted the ‘Head of Christ’ in a complete departure from the usual depiction of an agonised and emaciated Christ.
Botero, after all, is a unique artiste, shaped by the Colombia’s bloody past. When guerrillas blew up his Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace) in 1995 in a blast that killed about a dozen people, he urged city authorities to allow the mangled sculpture to remain in the Plaza San Antonio. He created another one just like it to stand beside his wounded Bird of Peace.
*Laxmi Murthy, Director - Hri, visited Colombia for the Prince Claus Fund Network Partner Meeting in the summer of 2015. The meeting was hosted by our Network Partner, Museo de Antioquia
"Hri" - a sound or a vibration, the utterance of which awakens the empathy that is an inherent part of every sentient being. Regionalism must no longer remain a prisoner of platitude, since there is a consensus that geopolitical friction, poverty and pressing environmental issues as well as cultural and social dislocation must be addressed through the regional framework. There is a need to revive and energise discussions of regionalism on the platform of mainstream politics, public information and research, with a dynamic Southasian sensibility.